Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats


GENIUS  AND   STUPIDITY
classical and religious education, which she in turn passed on
to her eldest son* not as she had received it, but fused into a
virile stoicism in her own independent mind. She had not
rejected Christianity, nor had she accepted it without question;
she had merely contrasted its teachings with those of Seneca
and Cicero, reducing all to their basic morality. Her friends
remembered her as a woman of strong character with- a mind
of her own. generous, with a marked vein of originality, quiz-
zical, and, at times, inclined to be paradoxical. She died in 1872
at the age of eighty-four. To the last she retained the full vigour
of her mind. She, like her husband, hated tyranny.
There is no record of mathematical talent on either side of
Galois'1 family. His own mathematical genius came on him like
an explosion, probably at early adolescence. As a child he was
affectionate and rather serious, although he entered readily
enough into the gaiety of the recurrent celebrations hi his
father's honour, even composing rhymes and dialogues to
entertain the guests. All this changed under the first stings of
petty persecution and stupid misunderstanding, not by his
parents, but by his teachers.
In 1823, at the age of twelve, Galois entered the lycee of
Louis-le-Grand in Paris. It was his first school. The place was a
dismal horror. Barred and grilled, and dominated by a provisor
who was more of a political jailer than a teacher, the place
looked like a prisons and it was. The France of 1823 still remem-
bered the Revolution. It was a time of plots and counterplots,
of riots and rumours of revolution. All this was echoed in the
school. Suspecting the provisor of scheming to bring back the
Jesuits, the students struck, refusing to chant in chapel. With-
out even notifying their parents the provisor expelled those
whom he thought most guilty. They found themselves in the
street. Galois was not among them, but it would have been
better for him if he had been.
Till now tyranny had been a mere word to the boy of twelve.
Now he saw it in action, and the experience warped one side of
his character for life. He was shocked into unappeasable rage.
His studies, owing to his mother's excellent instruction in the
classics, went very well and he won prizes. But he had also
399